The First Sip

Sansaku: The First Sip


If Dow felt like a kite lifted in the wind, what he heard was the many-toned voice of the wind as it blew through the trees down below. He could still hear the flute, but now the sound came from many birds and animals.   “What is that?”

She’d been wondering when he’d hear the windstones singing. “It’s my art. Do you remember that owl I was carrying when you first saw me?” He would never forget. It had changed the landscape of his soul. He didn’t need to answer, she was just summoning the memory.

“They’re monuments, like tombstones, but instead of sand-blasting names and dates, I crafted instruments of art to give their spirits voice. When the wind blows, like now, they remind me of what really matters in life and living.”

Dow could hardly believe what she was saying. He stopped her from saying more and said, “You told me your name, but I haven’t told you mine. My father is a Kraft and owns the cemetery and monument yard in Boulder, just like his father before him.” She liked the sound of his name, Dow Kraft. That fit.

He looked at the windstones and said, “You honor the dead in art that you hang in the trees, my father carved designs into rock and planted the body in the earth.”

There was more. Dow remembered his dream of the petroglyph and how it reminded Em of the design on the headboard of her parents’ bed. Not only was it so similar as to be the same, but he realized the way his father signed the stonecraft was two over-lapping circles that created a vertical and almond-shaped eye in the middle.

“I remember asking him,” Dow said, “and he wouldn’t tell me. But I could tell he was glad I had asked.”

He was near-sighted close to Em when he said this. Looking into both of her eyes at the same time created an optical illusion. Her two eyes fused into one, right in the middle. If it were possible and it seemed to be, this one eye was even more beautiful and aware than the two.

The mystical union is a transcendence of the two into one. This was happening to them. It wasn’t just the vision of the single eye, it was the movement of the two separate circles overlapping and forming a third.

There’s no wonder Freud put love-making on top. He just had a hard time staying there. He kept sliding down and back into the dark corners of his basement. He heard those wild dogs barking.

Jung climbed on top of the symbolic structure and let the winds of love blow him away, like Psyche was blown to Eros. Who would believe him if he used straight language? It’s why he wrote in code. Calling the psyche unconscious was like calling the universe un-earth. He would have preferred to say it’s about love and the soul.

Dahl brought them food in the evening and they ate under the cottonwoods and next to the green pool. The food was simple but sensual. Today he’d brought some wine and three glasses. He said, “Each cup of wine has seven sips and don’t forget, each sip is going to be the best.”

They had all the time in the world to eat and drink, but time didn’t matter here. Dahl was thinking about his own first sip of wine. He said, “Let’s drink to the fate that brought us here. I want you to remember how you felt on that day at that moment when you first saw each other.”

“Dow, do you remember that girl on a cow who carried a dead owl?”







The North Wind

Sansaku: The North Wind


Dow had almost guessed her true name on his way to the alcove. He remembered after she said, “I haven’t told you my name. Em stands for the ember in December.”   He thought about the first time he touched those embers, they both burst into flames.

She also said, “My last name’s North. It’s my mother’s name and her mother’s name. All the women have kept it.” Dow knew she’d been teased and asked about it. “My mother told me the north wind in December is untamed wild and free. Remember that when they tease you. You get to choose how to take it. They won’t see it coming.”

Dahl called this practice a spiritual path. He said, “If you can remember what matters the most, no matter what happens, you’re on it.” She’d used it as a compass. When she felt a knee-jerk reaction, she’d stop and remember, “What matters the most, and how do I want to respond?” The needle pointed toward the true December North.

Dahl defined wisdom as the refinement of desire. “You need to think about it,” he said. She had and soon realized that most of her desires were what he called meta-desires. He often used prefixes like meta and trans. He grafted them onto all kinds of roots and branches.

A meta-desire is not about outcome and doesn’t depend on so-called success. It’s a way of being, like the way Dahl or her mother responded to adversity with patience, humor, love and wisdom.

This reminds me of the seminar Chyako taught last night. She took an idea from Tara Brach, who took the idea from a Zen master: “True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection.” Em and Dow must have been free, because the world looked care-free perfect, just like their love. At least for now. Love is a spiritually challenging path.

Lovers know to keep quiet, even secret, about what they’ve found. It’s not socially appropriate to be so ecstatic and free. It’s on a higher, more spiritual plane, and doesn’t bow to the criticism of the norm.

They wanted to know everything about each other and Em told Dow to hold nothing back. She was probably more interested in his life than she was in her own right now. His life had joined with hers and she longed to know herself through him. Dow felt the very same way.

If difficult relationships present us with great opportunities to practice our meta-desires to grow in understanding, patience and love, Dow and Em were taking it to the next level up.

When he told his landmark stories to Em, they fell far below. The words he used could not sustain the vision. There was so much he wanted to say. It felt painfully incomplete.

She told him not to worry, “I know I’ll get to hear them many times and out of the many stories the larger ones will come.  I’m in a rush to go there slowly.”

Em liked the way Dow confessed his short-comings. He was the opposite of most of the boys she’d known. They’d pitch woo about what they thought she wanted to hear. And when they talked about themselves, she knew it’s how they wanted to be and weren’t.

If they said, “I love to walk in the night and write poems about the darkness.” She knew they didn’t. If they had, she would have already run into them, like she had with Dow. If they had said, “Teach me to walk in the night.” They might have found her willing.

Em didn’t talk about walking in the night or the poems she wrote, and no one needed to ask. After all, she was like the north wind in December and she blew whichever way she wanted. Dow felt like a kite and let her take him.















The Apple and the Eye

Sansaku: The Apple and the Eye


Em was already up and sitting on the edge of the alcove. She’d been watching the dawn unfold. Dow asked, “How was it?”   She paused before answering, remembering their night together. “It lasted a long time and just kept on coming stronger, more beautiful by the moment.” Dow vowed to himself, he would get up earlier tomorrow.

Next to the petroglyph of the dancing cranes was a more geometric design that looked like a heart with a vertical eye. The chiseled curve was continuous, like an infinity sign, and even resembled an abstract butterfly. He told her, “I think I dreamed about it.”

She looked at the petroglyph with new eyes and remembered what Dahl had told her. Now she understood. She’d had a dream herself and the image was an old one.

Her parent’s bed held a spell for her and she often dreamed about the unusual headboard. It was carved from the wood of a very old tree and the design was mystical. Two elaborate mandalas overlapped and in the almond shaped space, the artist had left it empty. She asked both her mother and Dahl what it meant. Neither of them would tell her.

“Why not?” she asked. Christina wouldn’t respond to demands like that and Dahl told stories that didn’t seem to connect. He asked if she knew the Biblical myth of the garden. She did, but Dahl told the story in a different way.

“It wasn’t a snake, but a dragon. And you know what they say, never look a dragon in the eye. Why do you think they say that?” Em was pretty sure she knew, “Because you’ll be paralyzed with fear.” It wasn’t a bad answer. “And what will happen then?” he asked. “Maybe,” she said, “That’s how he gets inside you.” It was a better answer.

Dow wondered where the story was going and thought she was just like Dahl. Her answer wasn’t connecting, but she seemed to know. “The unknown is unknown,” she said, “and we won’t know until we get there.” He didn’t think that answered it. “Just wait,” she said.

When Dahl asked about the infamous apple and the trees that grew there, Em realized the story was more complicated than she thought. Dahl said, “Em, what do you know about sex?” She said, “Come on, I live on a ranch.” He liked the answer but said, “Just wait.”

Dahl took years to tell her. The canyon was a garden of Eden and before the white folk dammed it, there were panels, like headboards, of erotic petroglyphs. They were much more explicit than the abstract design in the alcove. Who knows the true psychological meaning of sacred art, but the settlers thought it dangerous. It is, and that’s why it needs to be sacred and not stuffed in the shadow or commercialized.

Despite their best efforts to destroy the place, by defacing the panels and damming the creek, they never found the alcove and the water of life flows deep. It was still a place to honeymoon.

The old ones who watched the destruction wondered what in the holy hell these people were doing. They preached love and joy, but their words tasted like the bad kind of whisky they sold. The old ones retreated and took to the clouds. They knew how to wait.

“Are you telling me that petroglyph is sexual?” Em smiled. She was about to give him a dragon look and offer a bite of the apple.

She’d been sitting cross-legged and had a blanket wrapped around her body. He was looking in her eyes when she disrobed and slowly opened her legs. “What do you think?” They were back in the garden and I wouldn’t call it temptation.

It might have been original, but it wasn’t a sin.













Curves in the Body of Knowledge

Sansaku: Curves in the Body of Knowledge


I’ve been foreshadowing the foreplay long enough. While Dow was prepared to go slowly, Em had other ideas. She might not have known as much about sex as some girls her age, but she had more than her share of ideas.

Dahl had books the schools would have banned. When she opened Burton’s Perfumed Garden, her body instantly responded. Here was information of a different kind. But she’d long ago guessed, there are curves in the body of knowledge.

Both Em and Dow were aware of their curves right now. Dow put the flute on the altar stone and the two lovers sat down on the sandy floor of the alcove and looked at each other in wonder. When Em put up her hands, he mirrored them and together they followed each other. The two lovers attuned.

Every now and again, Hollywood stumbles onto a great love scene. There’s one at the beginning of Ghost. Demi Moore is throwing pots on a wheel. It couldn’t get more suggestive. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you remember.

I remember the first time I saw Chyako with her legs wrapped around a potter’s wheel. The wet clay centered. Her hands the color of mud and graceful in a way I’d never imagined. I’d already fallen in love with her, but when I watched her pull the clay and form it, I fell in love again.

In fact, when I was asked by an art magazine to publish “Best Slowly,” the poem was accompanied by photographs of Chyako’s hands throwing pots on the wheel. Why should I be surprised?

Dow was surprised when he put down the flute and the music continued.  It was almost beyond strange. Together they crawled to the edge of the balcony and looked over. It seemed to be coming from the trees. One thing for sure, it couldn’t be cranes.

Up to now, their bodies had done most of the talking. She said, “It better not be my brother.” Dow had gone to find his glasses so he could see better. “I don’t see anyone down there.” The one who played the flute had learned Dow’s tune, which alone was uncanny, but the flute even sounded the same.

Em laughed when she saw it. A huge raven in one the big cottonwoods had a pitch-perfect voice and somehow reproduced the sound of a crane flute. Everything said yes.

A random thought came into her mind, something her brother once told a neighbor. “If you think your dog is the best dog ever, then you’ve got a dog.” It didn’t take her long. She wondered if others had ever loved like she did now.

After weeks and weeks in the canyon, Dow had never felt better about his body and had never seen such beauty in another. Em felt the look and responded. She took the feather out of his hair and put it in her mouth. The pottery scene had nothing on this one.

The next morning, Em asked if he had any dreams. He said, “Some wild teenage kids had stolen my guitar. I wasn’t sad for long. In its place, I found a driftwood crafted case and a very different guitar. It had the same form as my old guitar, but was made of living wood. I knew the guitar itself would teach me how to play it.”

Em said, “You’ve already learned.”

An afterthought: Joseph Campbell, who was born on this day in 1904, would have said, “That’s what it means to follow your bliss.”






Wild Cranes Dancing

Sansaku: Wild Cranes Dancing


Walking barefoot and half-blind in the canyon had taught Dow how to learn and listen to his body. And just as Em had taught him to swim under the pour-off passage to access the higher canyon, he was following her path again. He had faith that he could find it.

The first few steps were hidden and had to be felt to be found. But once he took them, they carried him to a ledge that gracefully crossed the cliff and then curved back again at a slightly higher level.

He thought the way would continue to spiral up, but it didn’t. He looked around for steps or a hand-hold, but there wasn’t any. He had taken a turn in the maze that led to a cul-de-sac and he’d almost decided to go back down and start again, when he heard a voice as soft and clear as a December snow.

She said his name, “Dow.” It seemed to come out of the stone itself. He held his breath and listened. “You need to trust me, like you did in the canyon. You cannot see or feel the way, but it is there. If you commit, you’ll find it. If you doubt, you’ll fall.”

He wanted to ask for more directions, but chose to take off his glasses instead. He was already barefoot. Along with the flute, he put them in his pocket. The divining-rod feather in his hair was twitching.

With her image in mind, he pushed around the corner and his hand found a deep bucket-hold in the rock. His body followed and found the steps he needed. The rest of the way was practically paved with a sculptured elegance. He thought about the kiva.

She was sitting in the middle of this plainly sacred space, with the dancing crane panel behind her. Dow’s eyes were dancing in and out of focus. She reminded him of the light that sometimes comes after a winter storm, when everything takes on a mystical glow. He wanted to tell her about a certain December day, but she put a finger to her lips and whispered. “Don’t talk, not yet.”

Dow saw the altar place near the panel with the cranes. Em had decorated the space with a few pieces of her art. He recognized her style and touch.   He wanted to offer the flute and removed it from his pocket, but the look on her face was magic. He smiled back, she didn’t need to say. He knew exactly what to do.

There’s that moment in the story, when the wild swans come to the pond in spring and the ugly duckling sees himself and learns about true nature. Em looked like a wild crane and as soon as she heard the flute, got up off the floor and slowly began to dance like one.

Dow watched her closely and carefully matched her movements. They moved together in synchrony, two wings to the one bird they formed. They had no need for talk, the flute and the dance and the look in their eyes said it all.

If Dow had learned to trust his feet in the canyon, Em had learned to trust silence from Dahl. He’s the one who suggested she put a finger to her lips when they met. He said, “Words move too fast, you’ll want to slow it down.”   She understood best slowly.

I’m remembering my first date with Chyako. We climbed up Animas Mountain together and sat on the cliff overlooking the valley. We’d arrived just in time. Two eagles were dancing. I’d never seen anything like it and I’ve never seen it again.

They coupled and tumbled, locked in a love embrace, and plunged in a whoosh together. Our mouths opened wide as they rushed toward the earth. But the eagles knew exactly what to do and showed us the way.









When the Inner Becomes the Outer

Sansaku: When the Inner Becomes the Outer


At this time last year, I was writing about a young man who entered an enchanted grove by fate and design, where he encountered a mysterious woman with green eyes.   He saw the reflection of her face in the water of a strange pool, but it wasn’t a reflection.   She lived in a different realm and was calling to him.

And I happened to watch “Avatar” last night and that’s what happens in the movie. The hero, who’s wounded and half paralyzed in his outer life, is given a dream body that allows him to enter into the forbidden forest world of the interior. A woman with blue skin sees him from her hiding place above and almost kills him with an arrow. But the spirits indicate, he’s the right person and he belongs here.

When the inner life becomes the outer life something always happens. Usually the outer is outer and the inner is inner, and they stay split and separated, often far apart. It’s mystical when they merge.

Dow has come to similar place in a very different way. His story is not like theirs. The forest where he finds himself is every bit as enchanted, but it is not forbidden. And the face is not unknown, but familiar. The arrow was already shot, and both of their hearts were pierced.

Knowing she was close, Dow played the crane flute for her and let it carry the feelings he wanted to express. Em heard exactly what he intended and couldn’t help herself from wanting to peek. He was right where she knew he’d be. Because he was looking down, she thought he wouldn’t see her. But the dog did.

Dow was watching the clouds’ reflection in the pool and they seemed to be moving in circles and responding to the music. There was a glow around their edges. He could also see the trees and cliff in the water-mirror, and then he saw her face. It’s where the dog was looking.

Em had rested her chin on the stone rim of the alcove and didn’t know he’d seen her. She really should have guessed and probably wanted him to know. The dog had clearly nodded and Dow took the flute out of his mouth. He’d been playing the song called Dancing Cranes.

I’ve had a number of dreams about this sansaku project of mine, and mentioned one the other day. Dow was carrying a magpie feather in one hand and his glasses in the other. Last night I watched what I described in the dream as wheels that started spinning and turned into shafts and columns of light. I associated them with chakras, the energy centers in the body.   Dow’s were fully charged.

Her eyes were playing tricks on her and he appeared to have an iridescent shimmer, like a magpie feather or those high crystalline clouds.   And she could feel a humming in her body, spiraling up from the root of her spine. She closed her eyes. The feeling was ecstatic.

That’s when Dow raised his head and saw where she was hiding. Like the passage in the canyon, he knew he’d find the way. He’d never felt freer in his life at the present moment and what he wanted was the same as what he had to do. It was a most delightful paradox.

There’s an old saying that life is not a problem to be solved, but a great mystery to be lived and experienced. The same can be said for some of the archetypal conflicts that recur like existential givens. They’re meant to be lived more than solved. Going for what we want in life, really want, creates all kinds of conflicts and some are of a higher order.

Dow knew what he wanted and it happened to be exactly what she wanted. And when the inner life becomes the outer life, something is bound to happen. It’s mystical when they merge.


The Key

Sansaku: The Key


Em had climbed into the secret alcove in the cliff above her voodoo forest and the dark pools that welled up from below the dam. She’d been there all morning, listening for his approach and carefully studying the clouds. She heard the dog, then Dow, and didn’t look down lest the dog look up and betray her.

She listened with an uncommon attention and believed she could accurately see where the two of them stopped and looked around. Her art was everywhere down there and since it was mostly crafted from animal spirits, she was curious how he’d experience the sanctuary.

She was curious about a lot of things. He’d lived in Boulder and studied at the university, and she’d spent her whole life here. She actually believed at times she hadn’t traveled much, but she knew better. She loved this land with devotion and took great pleasure in its mysteries and beauty. Few have traveled more intensively.

She did wonder if he’d find it boring and want to leave after a month or two. From his point of view there probably wasn’t much to do. But she knew that wasn’t true. She’d watched him in the canyon and remembered what Dahl meant when he said, “I’ve found him.”

After exploring the forest for untold hours, Dow settled across the canyon from the alcove by one of the larger pools. It reflected the cliff almost perfectly in the mirrored surface of its dark waters.   Sitting there, he was finally traveling to the places he’d longed to see.

Up above, Em was flat on her back looking up at the sky.   The dancing crane petroglyphs were on the echoing wall behind her.   She could hear he had stopped at the pool where she liked to swim and imagined him taking off clothes.

He kept his clothes on this time, but took the feather out of his mouth and put it back into his hair, which is where it normally lived. The dog settled down beside him and Dow pulled out the flute. He was almost certain she’d be listening.   He looked to the top of the butte to see if she were there. Just clouds.

The dog looked at him and their eyes met. He remembered his dream and the intense sensation of the snake latching on to the sexual root of his being. It wasn’t poison, it was a jump-start activation. Then he heard the flute music he’d play. Two dancing cranes came to mind.

Hall’s dream theory can be condensed into the conceptions and concerns we have about ourselves, the significant others in our lives, the world, our impulses and conflicts.   As always with dreams, it’s the intensity of the feeling that matters.

Dreams use symbols in the same way waking consciousness uses figurative thinking in speech. We take this skill for granted and make no waves or bones about it. Symbolism is far from code and we don’t need professional translators to tell us what our dreams mean.

Hall disagreed with Freud’s theory that dreams symbolically disguised our sexual impulses, concerns, and conceptions. Instead, Hall said that human sexuality and relationships are so complex they take the full breadth and width of figurative language to even approach the mystery. It’s why Freud found that with every dream discovery he made, the poets and artists of old had already been there.

I’d tell students, “You want to know how your partner symbolizes or thinks about sex. It makes a great deal of difference if he’s just getting his rocks off or playing a game and trying to score.”

Dow had dreamed about a door and the crane flute music was going to be the magical key that opened it.